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Review – Pixels

Pixels Poster

In 1982 a video that included footage from the video arcade world championship was shot into space.  Today an alien race is invading Earth, modeling their attacks after the classic games featured in that video.  The only ones who can save the day are those grown up nerds who know Pac-Man, Centipede, and Galaga better than anyone else.  Inspired by the short film by Patrick Jean.

Pixels stars Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Josh Gad, Peter Dinklage, and Michelle Monaghan.

The original short film is quite inventive and pays homage to the classic games of yore.  If you haven’t yet, I recommend taking three minutes and watching it.  Ok, back from watching it?  Excited to see those pixelated effects on the big screen?  Well, if this movie got one thing right, it was the graphics.  We’re treated to everything that made that short film cool, and more.  It’s actually surprisingly faithful to how similar it looks to the source material.  Of course the three minute short on youtube doesn’t have much in the way of a plot.  The feature length version is surprisingly competent at giving us a semi-coherent story from a rather abstract concept.

While the plot more or less makes sense in the world of movie magic, it’s still filled with more holes than Pitfall and E.T. combined.  It breaks its own rules as quickly as it makes them.  Then again, we’re in a world where Kevin James somehow becomes president of the United States while still acting like Kevin James, so logic is obviously not of the biggest concern here.

Adam Sandler is actually fairly subdued in his role as a former child arcade whiz.  He’s either getting even lazier about phoning in his patented schtick, or director Chris Columbus has done a lot to reign him in.  Either way, it makes this film all the more enjoyable without Sandler plowing through every scene.  It’s one of his best films, whatever that counts for at this point.

Essentially this movie is a love letter to the 80’s and classic gaming, by people who probably never actually had a love affair with either.  Sandler and James were already old enough to drive in ’82, while Gad was still in diapers.  Peter Dinklage is the only one who spent his teenaged years in the 80’s.  It’s hard to pay homage to something that you’ve never really experienced.

For those who did grow up at that time, or are at least familiar with classic video games, there are tons of references and jokes to be had.  Pixels does frequently fall into the trap of thinking something is funny just because it’s a reference to something people remember, but still it works well enough.

The humor is suggestive at times, but relatively clean and unoffensive, especially compared to most comedies these days.  It’s goofy, illogical, mostly forgettable fun.  Sort of like a lot of video games.

Pixels is not a good film, make no mistake, but it isn’t bad either.  It falls right in the middle as few hours diversion.  It’s probably not worth the full price of a movie ticket, but a matinee or rental later on?  Sure, why not if you’re in the mood.

The biggest cinema sin this movie commits is not living up to its potential.  It’s a premise that could have been built into something truly special instead of a by the numbers comedy.  Turning a smart concept into an Adam Sandler vehicle is just not right.  Instead of taking the easy way around an absurd premise by making a goofy comedy, perhaps it could have taken itself more seriously.  Too often, films are scared to fully commit to what they actually are, and end up weaker for it.

When it comes down to it, maybe my expectations were too low going in, or maybe I just really liked seeing people play life sized versions of Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, and Centipede, but I enjoyed myself.  I’m probably giving this movie more credit than it is due, but, hey, I was entertained.

Mrs. Hamster says:

“Not as bad as I thought it would be!”

My rating: Three out of five hats



Pixels plays in 3,723 theaters, including IMAX 3D, July 24

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